In Part 1, I wrote about keeping the fire of Nanowrimo, and Part 2 was about moving your story through the proper stages of a novel. In Part 3 today, we’ll discuss the big climax, the ending, the part the rest of your book builds up to!
When we left off the last post, your book should have been moving to the end of the middle. How can you tell when it’s reaching that point? Well, the stakes are getting higher, the conflicts are mounting, your character is getting pushed to her limits. Usually—not always, of course—the writer can just feel the big part of the story coming. Sometimes it doesn’t come through until revision, but we’ll talk about that when I release my ebook Editing After Nanowrimo.
Right now, feel out the plot line of your story. If your character is approaching a life changing moment. . .if your character is coming close to the question opened in the beginning. . .if your character is close to what she’s wanted this entire novel. . .then you’re close to the end! And if you’re not at the point yet, just work on getting your character to that point. Help mount up difficulties until he seems close to his breaking point. Bring her development to a point when everything hinges on one moment, one decision.
4 Ways to Improve Plot/Climax in Your Writing by Jeff Gerke points out that there are four components to your ending:
1. The run-up to the climactic moment (last-minute maneuvering to put the pieces in their final positions)
2. The main character’s moment of truth (the inner journey point toward which the whole story has been moving)
3. The climactic moment itself (in which the hero directly affects the outcome)
4. The immediate results of the climactic moment (the villain might be vanquished, but the roof is still collapsing)
Dividing your ending up into these four components will really help set up both the inner and outer conflict and move your protagonist through the ending so that climactic moment is powerful.
Everything has been building up to this, and your ending should pack a punch. Your reader has been following these characters for some 250 pages. There needs to be a moment where your protagonists steps up and makes a decision that, as Jeff Gerke says, directly affects the outcome. This is her shining moment. This is when we really figure out what kind of person he is.
Your ending can be either of an internal and external nature (although you’ll be hard-pressed to find a satisfying ending that doesn’t have some kind of internal struggle). Some novels will be more introspective about characters and relationships and emotions while others will deal with saving the world or stopping the serial killer. Either way, the stakes should be high. Will she ever love again? Will he save his mother?
Your character must make a decision, and sometimes it’s not a good one. We realize that as writers, that sometimes our characters are flawed. Or sometimes he makes the right decision, but everything still collapses on him. Sometimes it’s a tragic ending instead of a happy one. Although it’s rare (especially in the genres I read), it does happen. If you choose to make this risky move, just know that not everyone will be happy with you. In general, more people like happy endings. But it’s your novel and hopefully you’ll be able to know what is right for the story. Sometimes, of course, you think you do and then a beta reader or an editor will tell you, ‘No way!’ And you can take their advice or you can leave it 😉
One of the most important questions to ask when writing the ending is asking if the reader will be satisfied. After they have followed your characters for the book, are they going to feel they satisfied? Have the characters changed and learned something? Has the reader wasted her time? A lot of things that contribute to reader satisfaction stem from whether your ending has the right pacing, logic, and impact.
Pacing: the ending shouldn’t come too late or too soon in the book. The ending should be moving at a faster rate than the rest of the book (more conflict and tension!) but not so fast it feels like a different story.
Logic: the ending should spring from the events of the rest of the book. We shouldn’t see a bunch of new characters or situations impacting the climax. The reader should also feel it’s inevitable (though not, exactly, predictable)
Impact: the ending should be powerful for both the character and the reader. Your character will never be the same. Your reader should never forget it.
Here are some basic questions you can ask yourself before, during, and after you write the end:
– Does this ending feel natural? Do the sequence of events lead to this climax in a way that doesn’t feel forced?
– Does my character work hard for his triumph? Or do things come easily to him so that no sacrifice is made?
– Does my character go through some kind of transformation? Does he make a powerful decision in the climax that changes him or his situation forever?
– Have I delivered on the promise I made to the reader in the beginning?
– Have I tied up loose ends? Have I left enough mystery for sequels or for realism but also tied up the story enough so my reader doesn’t have too many questions?
I’m going to close this three-part blog series with this: if you want to finish your Nanowrimo novel, move your characters to the end. Then write an ending that forces that last life-changing decision on your character, that resolves the problems you’ve been creating since page one, and that moves your characters and your readers emotionally. Endings will look different for every novel, but good ones all have something in common: they leave readers satisfied. They feel like their time was well-spent reading your book.
(Now, if you’re just writing for your own sake, then write an ending that satisfies you! If you’re going to be the only reader, you still need to satisfy that one reader.)
I hope these blog posts help you finish your Nanowrimo novel! Good luck, and until the next novel!